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Saturday 10 December 2016

Ireland fans join Chicago party hoping Cubs inspire a historic win

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Published 05/11/2016 | 02:30

The Irish team, including, from left, Robbie Henshaw, Jordi Murphy, Jack McGrath, CJ Stander, Josh va der Flier and Rory Best during captain's run at Soldier Field in Chicago Photo: Brendan Moran
The Irish team, including, from left, Robbie Henshaw, Jordi Murphy, Jack McGrath, CJ Stander, Josh va der Flier and Rory Best during captain's run at Soldier Field in Chicago Photo: Brendan Moran

As the green army descended on downtown Chicago, the spectre of a historic victory already hung in the air. On Wednesday, the Chicago Cubs overcame the odds and won the World Series for the first time since 1908. And the Cubs' victory offered a glimmer of hope to Ireland rugby fans ahead of tonight's showdown with the mighty All Blacks.

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Perhaps some of the Cubs' luck would prove to be transferable. Perhaps, they could give their 'It's Gonna Happen' banners a new lease of life by passing them on to Irish fans. Then we could make history of our own and beat the Kiwis for the first time, and recover from that tantalising last-gasp defeat at the Aviva Stadium in 2013.

Chicago Cubs star Ben Zobrist celebrates Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Cubs star Ben Zobrist celebrates Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps we could break the All-Blacks' winning streak of a record 18 matches.

Riding on the crest of one victory and with the prospect of another on the horizon, ex-pat Ireland fans were indulging in what Americans call 'pre-gaming' - starting the celebrations before the actual event.

Little did travelling Irish fans know when they booked their flights that Chicago would be hosting a party of such historic proportions.

A jolt of excitement and energy ran through the Windy City. The Chicago River, always dyed green on St Patrick's Day, was dyed royal blue in honour of the Cubs.

Checking out the new hue was Tom McAllister, an Irishman living in Hong Kong, and his wife, Salam Bassili, originally from New Zealand.

They were going to watch the parade and take a boat tour along the Chicago River to soak up the celebrations.

The Cubs victory parade drew seemingly all of Chicago, and a lot of Ireland.

Michael McHugh, father, and Michael McHugh, son, from Dublin, were happy to celebrate with the Cubs.

The elder McHugh was not sure about Chicago food, though. "The pizza was too big," he said.

Also at the parade was Andy Banicki, a Chicago native who is currently working in Dublin. He is a Cubs season ticket holder who came back for the World Series.

"This is all good craic, right?" he said. "See, I know the sayings." He plans to attend the rugby match before returning to Dublin.

But other Ireland fans were avoiding the Cubs hoopla all together.

At the Emerald Loop Club, Owen Redmond of Dublin was having breakfast with Enda Sullivan, now living in Seattle, and Mark Kirwin, now in Washington, DC. The three friends had been enjoying Chicago nightlife and weren't quite ready to join the crowd. "It's mental, it's completely mental," Kirwin said.

The Irish team seemed to be making the most of their time Stateside; Jordi Murphy made sure to stop by Smith & Wollensky steakhouse.

The basement party room at the Gage, a restaurant on Michigan Avenue, was host to a luncheon for the Ireland Network, a business and social club for ex-pats and friends.

Speaking were retired Ireland rugby players Keith Wood and Tony Ward.

Dan Payne of USA Rugby and Minister for Sport Shane Ross also attended the event.

Stuart Ryan and Brendan Fortune, Irish immigrants in Chicago, brought their friend Colm Halloran, a Dubliner working in Nepal for the EU.

Fortune was thrilled about the Cubs.

"I came over here in 1998 and I used to live near Wrigley Field," he said.

Some rugby fans were waiting upstairs at the Gage for a glimpse of the players going to the party downstairs.

Des O'Connor and Alan Egan came from Dublin with their families.

"I was in Boston in 2004 when they broke that curse. I plan holidays around the World Series," he joked.

Dan Egan, who plays for the Skerries Rugby Club, was disappointed. "The Cubs winning the World Series has taken away the emphasis on rugby," he said.

Irish Independent

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